That includes searching for a new CEO/president since Deborah Dugan’s official termination March 2. Under its MusiCares charitable arm, the Recording Academy has established the COVID-19 Relief Fund, which stands at $10 million and counting. And on Thursday (April 30), the organization announced the hiring of Valeisha Butterfield Jones as its first chief diversity and inclusion officer.
Billboard spoke with Harvey Mason Jr., chair of the Recording Academy’s board of trustees and the organization’s interim CEO/president, about how the academy’s work goes forward in these challenging times.
It’s been almost two months since Dugan’s official termination. How is the search for her replacement going?
It’s going. The timing has shifted a little bit because of the coronavirus. I’m going to continue to serve. I’m honored to be here. But we’re also looking for the right person and in time we will be hiring a CEO.
Last time we spoke, you suggested that you weren’t interested in being considered for the job on a permanent basis. Is that still true?
I feel like the right person will come along to lead the organization. I’m going to do it [for] now. I’m very proud to do it. I’m not looking to step down. I’m not looking to hand it off right away, but I am looking to make sure [we find] somebody who can do this position. My focus is on the things that we’re doing for the next few months. And at some point, my focus will be on finding the right person to be the CEO [going forward].
There were three finalists when Dugan was selected. It would seem a simple matter to go back to the other two candidates and ask, “Are you still interested?”
Yes, that would be very simple. I think we would want to do a little more due diligence around the process. I think the timing is different now and the academy is different now. Even though it was just a year ago [that Dugan’s appointment was announced], the search started a year and eight months ago. So I think we would probably want to take a look at all the candidates. Obviously the runners-up would be people that we would absolutely look to see if they’re still interested. But I think doing a real comprehensive look at what the job description means now in this time period, having gone through what we’ve gone through, especially with the crisis around COVID, and also looking at the structure of the academy over the next few months, that could have a different look than it looked like when we first hired Deb. So [there are] a lot of questions to be asked between now and then.
What search firm are you using?
We have not hired a search firm at this point. We’ve been interviewing search firms. We’re going between four or five firms at this point.
How is morale at the academy? You’ve been through two crises this year — Dugan’s dismissal and coronavirus.
I feel from my perspective the [mood] is cautious optimism. I feel like there are some exciting things happening in the future, although it has been a tough start to the year. I think we’re looking forward. We’ve got a board meeting coming up at the end of May, which we’re doing virtually, of course. I think you’re doing to see things coming out of that board meeting that we’ll be proud of and excited to share. I think the staff feels that – and hopefully the membership feels that — we’re making progress. Our work around the COVID Relief Fund had made a difference. I hope people are pleased with our efforts there.
It’s a little bit tough to talk about morale, or to gauge morale, when we’re all going through so many things and dealing with personal hardship and crises. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to work from our living rooms for another day. So it’s really hard to get too optimistic at this point. But I do feel like we’re moving in a really positive direction.
You’re doing your May trustees meeting virtually?
The board meeting is going to be on Zoom. We’re having some of the committee meetings on Zoom. We’re finding that we can get a lot of work done that way. It’s not perfect, but it’s working for us.
The 63rd Annual Grammy Awards are set for Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 31. We all hope that that will be possible, but what if it isn’t?
I wouldn’t want to speculate at this point. We obviously really want to do our show, but we don’t want it to be unsafe for our artist community or our fans of the show. I will tell you that I spent some time talking to [Los Angeles] Mayor [Eric] Garcetti, who outlined some of his plans for the city. We’ll be taking our cues from the people who run the city and the medical community to make sure we’re doing things the right way, but of course we want to have a show, we want to honor music and we want to showcase the best music of the year, so we’ll see what happens.
If you can’t do a full-scale Grammy telecast at Staples on Jan. 31, would you rather do some kind of show then or postpone it until you can do it the usual way?
I’d rather see 20,000 screaming fans in Staples and everybody having a great time enjoying the show and all staying safe and healthy. But beyond that, I don’t think I’ll make a choice at this point.
This will be the first trustees meeting under the new system where eight of the 40 trustees are selected after you know who the first 32 are. Could you explain that a little bit?
We changed the way we constitute our trustee room. One of the things that we wanted to do is make sure the trustees were really representative of the music community that we serve. There was some question as to if we actually had the ability to control that. The 12 chapters send regional representatives to the national trustees room depending on the size of their chapters, so we never really had the ability to control who went in that room. For the first time in the history of the academy, we now have eight seats with which we can adjust the makeup of that room, so if we’re really light on rock ‘n’ roll representation or we need more people of color or we need more women or we need more banjo players, those people are put in a secondary election and run for those eight seats. So for the first time, we can really influence the make-up and the representation in our trustee room. It’s very exciting for us. We’ve been working on that for a number of years.
That was a Task Force recommendation, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was. The Task Force brought up a lot of things that we needed to pay attention to. They really did a lot of hard work and heavy lifting that definitely affect and influence some decisions that I make. I was very thankful to be able to work with the task force and [task force chair] Tina Tchen specifically on questions that I had; concerns I had as to what should we be looking at. The task force was very beneficial to us. There were a lot of things that we needed to do and that we could do better and that we can do better. We have started to make some of those improvements and changes and there are still many more that will be coming in the near future.